Interior of the Public Library of Cincinnati


Unfortunately, these photos are all that survive of the splendour of Cincinnati’s “Old Main” public library.  The wrought iron book alcoves, spiral staircases, level upon level of bookshelves and balconies belong to the public library that was completed in 1874 and subsequently torn down in 1955.

This photo was taken from the top level at the back corner of the atrium, facing towards the front of the building.


Interior of the Public Library of Cincinnati

The architect of the “Old Main” was a local man named James W. McLaughlin, who would go on to design Cincinnati’s Art Museum. Although the Library was a wondrous feat at the time of its completion – not only was it visually impressive, it included central heating and an elevator – by the 1950s it had slumped into disrepair. There was poor ventilation, peeling paint and overall was deemed antiquated and unable to house the library’s growing catalogue of books (by then close to 1.25 million volumes).

The new library located on 800 Vine St. opened its doors on Jan. 31st 1955 leaving the “Old Main” on 629 Vine St. to be mercilessly demolished just 5 months later.  The site is now a parking garage.

In his history of Cincinnati’s public library John Fleischman wrote, “Yet when the doors closed forever … and wise heads declared that Old Main would never be missed, they were wrong.”


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Source: Ohio Memory

About The Author

Avatar of Sophia
Assistant Curator

Sophia joined the Retronaut team as a researcher in 2014. After graduating from Liverpool in 2013 with a BA in Ancient History, she moved to London and now works at Bletchley Park as a volunteer archivist. From test shots of Lauren Bacall to space suits for dogs, working for Retronaut means that Sophia can keep exploring the moments where history, culture and photography collide.

One Response

  1. Betty

    Cincinnati library – Aaaaaaaaaawsome. Stunning. Wish it was there in my life time. I love libraries. This one is what dreams are made of.
    So happy to have discovered your site and many thanks to the contributor.


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